University grads prefer Liberals - Macleans.ca

University grads prefer Liberals

But that doesn’t mean the census debate is igniting a culture war

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A new Ekos poll released today suggests that university graduates prefer the Liberals over the governing Conservatives. Ekos president Frank Graves says this “trend” might reflect not only discontent over the great census crisis, but is also indicative of “a deeper structural divide between the educated elite and what Galbraith calls the ‘not so rich.'” By “not so rich” Graves is referring to “college graduates.” In other words, we are in the midst of a culture war, the census debate is the catalyst, and the line is being drawn between the university educated and the college educated. Too bad Ekos’s own data doesn’t appear to support that conclusion.

The two-week survey, conducted between July 7 and 20, shows that 29.9 per cent of those with a university degree would vote Conservative against 32.0 per cent who would vote Liberal if an election were held tomorrow.  For the college educated the numbers are 34.8 per cent Conservative and 23.7 per cent Liberal. Apparently this is what Graves means by a “deeper divide” between the “educated elite” and everyone else.

For that speculation to have even a whiff of credibility, wouldn’t it have to be shown that the divide has actually deepened over time, say by tracking Ekos’s own polls? If the numbers are substantially different than they were in May or June, before the phrase ” long-form census ” found its way into newspapers on an almost daily basis, than Graves might have a point. But that isn’t the case.

In the Ekos poll released June 24, results were nearly identical to the July poll. University grads still favoured the Liberals (34.3 per cent) over the Conservatives (29.0 per cent) and college grads still preferred the Conservatives (34.1 per cent) against the Liberals (23.7 per cent). Despite these largely unchanged numbers, support for the government among university grads in fact increased in July over June, if only a little (0.9 per cent) and decreased for the Liberals by 2.3 per cent. While support among college grads for the government also increased between June and July, (0.7 per cent), support for the Liberals among this group was unchanged. Hardly a widening cultural chasm.

Now, as the Globe points out, the second week of the July survey does appear to show a drop in support for the government among university grads (to 28.3 per cent) and a rise in support among the “not so rich” college educated ( to 38.7 per cent). Even these numbers, however, appear to be consistent with long-term trends as opposed to a sharp divide precipitated by recent events. The Ekos poll released on May 24 had support for the Conservatives among the university educated at 31.6 per cent, but it was 27.8 per cent at the beginning of April. In the May poll 36.0 per cent of college graduates supported the government, while the April poll had the number at 34.4 per cent.

Removing the long-form census may be bad public policy, and it might be fun to argue that university graduates (with their apparently superior understanding of data collection) would be particularly irked, and it might also be fun to argue that college graduates (with their obvious affinity for “red meat” policies) are ecstatic over no longer having to fill out lengthy census forms. But, this week’s poll is just another in a long list of polls that demonstrates shifting support for this or that party according to level of education. That’s not to say it has nothing to do with the census debate; however, even if these changes in polling numbers were the result of what’s in the news, and they might very well be, there is nothing special about it.

To be clear, Graves was only offering “speculation” over the presence of a “deeper structural divide.”  But shouldn’t even speculation, particularly coming from a company that boasts the scientific accuracy in its polling, be based on evidence?

Photo: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to University of Manitoba students: Ashley Gaboury